El Salvador extends emergency powers to fight gangs

SAN SALVADOR: El Salvador’s Congress on Sunday (Apr 24) approved a month-long extension of emergency measures that rights groups say infringe civil liberties but which President Nayib Bukele has said are necessary after a surge of gang killings.

The measures, which enact emergency powers to limit some constitutional rights, went into effect late last month after the Central American country registered 62 homicides in one day – the highest toll in two decades.

Since then, authorities said they have arrested more than 16,000 suspected gang members. Human rights organisations have said the detentions include arbitrary arrests of non-gang members and abuses of authority.

“The number of abuses committed during these 30 days are countless, mainly due to fear from victims and relatives to denounce them,” human rights advocate Celia Medrano told reporters.

Bukele said last month the emergency powers would be used only as necessary and life would go on as normal for the “vast majority” of people.

The measures allow for restrictions on free assembly and the inviolability of correspondence and communications, as well as an extension of administrative detention.

Since the measures were enforced, lawmakers also voted to approve substantial increases in prison sentences for gang leaders and members.

“We are going to be chasing them until they are brought to justice. We want a country free of gangs,” Defence Minister Rene Merino told reporters.

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